This pennant fever thing is something the Atlanta Braves are learning to enjoy.
Ron Gant hit his National League-leading 28th home run and Steve Avery shook off a mild slump as the Braves beat the Phillies, 6-1, Friday night at Philadelphia for their fifth victory in a row and their ninth in the last 11 games.
Avery, a talented 21-year-old left-hander, had lost three in a row. But he gave up only four hits and struck out 10 in seven innings to improve to 14-8.
Gant’s home run, which followed a single by Terry Pendleton in the fourth inning, broke a scoreless tie. In the sixth, David Justice, continuing to hit well since coming off the disabled list, got his 14th home run.
Gant, coming on strong after a poor start, needs five more steals and two more home runs to join the 30-30 club for the second year in a row. Only Willie Mays and Bobby Bonds have accomplished the feat twice.
After 33 games, Gant was hitting .177. He has increased his average to .254.
For the past decade Atlanta has been known as “Losersville.” Most of its sports teams have not even contended. The Braves won the West in 1982 and have seldom been in the race since. They finished last in four of the last five seasons.
One of those experiencing pennant fever is Avery. He was only 20 last season when the Braves decided to give him a full taste of pitching in the majors for a last-place team. He was 3-11.
Until his previous three starts, Avery had been a brilliant pitcher. But as the Braves closed in on the Dodgers, Avery had his problems. In those three starts he lasted only 9 2/3 innings, giving up 12 runs and 19 hits and losing them all.
“It was great to be around for the seventh-inning stretch,” Avery said after Friday night’s game.
“I was concentrating on getting ahead of the hitters and I had a very good fastball. I’ve been working on getting a better leg drive, and I think that helped.
“I think it also helped to see the confidence in our clubhouse. We now believe we have the best chance to win the West. It’s a great feeling.”
Pittsburgh 4, San Diego 1--A big reason the Pirates are moving closer to another division title in the East is their ability to win on the road.
John Smiley (16-8), with late-inning help at San Diego, pitched the Pirates to their third road victory in a row. The Pirates have the best road record in the majors (36-27).
Fred McGriff led off the seventh with his 26th home run for the only Padre run. Stan Belinda and Rosario Rodriguez finished for the Pirates. The Padres had only four hits.
The Pirates took a 3-0 lead against Dennis Rasmussen (4-11) in the first four innings.
New York 3, Cincinnati 2--The Reds are in a position where they can’t afford to lose to second-division teams in a slump.
But catcher Charlie O’Brien, who hits a home run about every 100 at-bats, hit his second home run of the season, and the lowly Mets dropped the Reds eight games out of first place in the West.
David Cone, the league’s leader with 177 strikeouts, got nine in six innings at Cincinnati to improve his record against the Reds to 6-1.
In ending the Reds’ four-game winning streak, the Mets won for only the seventh time in the last 30 games.
Keith Miller drove in what proved to be the winning run in the seventh. Randy Myers (5-12) struck him out three times in a row, but with two on and two out, Miller lined a single to center.
Myers, moved in as a starter six weeks ago, has given up two runs or fewer in five of seven starts.
San Francisco 8, St. Louis 3--Bud Black, knocked around in his four previous starts, pitched and batted the Giants to victory at San Francisco.
Black (10-13) drove in two runs as the Giants hammered rookie Ray Cormier.
The third loss in a row dropped the Cardinals seven games behind the Pirates in the East.
Montreal 3, Houston 1--Two rain delays in what is supposed to be an enclosed stadium in Montreal failed to deter the Expos.
After a 45-minute delay, Tim Wallach and Larry Walker hit consecutive run-scoring doubles in the first inning to give Mark Gardner (8-9) the support he needed.
Then came another 75-minute delay. Wind damaged the part of the roof that is supposed to close and it will probably not be repaired this season.